Why is there No Poetry in the Movies?

A simple enough question. I have heard that poetry, in cultures that are “less literate”, is far more popular, as their mnemonics make for easier retension and transmission of information. This seems to mesh perfectly with the lowbrow nature of most movies.
The more I’ve though about this the more it makes sense. Imagine a hard-boiled action adventure movie, with a poetry narration to create the mood. Or equally well, a romantic comedy.
The director doesn’t have to rely on the sets or the actors or special effects–the poem sets the mood.
For better or worse, do you think poetry would improve many of the movies you’ve seen recently? Lord of the Rings? The Scorpion King? Changing Lanes? National Lampoon’s Van Wilder?

There are any number of things wrong with your premise. Are movies about the transmission of information? Is all poetry, for that matter? How does the alleged popularity of poetry “mesh perfectly” with the “lowbrow” nature of movies? Are movies any more lowbrow than popular literature or, at its height of popularity, the theater? How do you define poetry? A reading of Yeats being filmed? Why can’t movies have their own poetry? If you’ve ever seen a movie by Buster Keaton, or Fred & Ginger, or Max Ophuls, or Frederic Back, or Bruce Baillie, than you have seen poetry in motion, manifested in different ways. There is poetry in the rhythm of the screenplays by Preston Sturges, in the film music of Georges Delerue, in the camerawork of John Alton. If you haven’t found poetry in movies, than you haven’t been looking hard enough.

Methinks this thread is on its way to Café Society.

I’d say that while poetry is a great way to make a story memorable, seeing it happen is an even better way. That’s why, as Western society was able to provide for more artists to entertain the population, the storyteller gave way to stage productions as the favorite popular entertainment. Later, movies came along.

That being said, I think The Fellowship of the Ring would have benefited from the addition of a couple stanzas of Tolkien’s poetry, since that was pretty important in the book.

There’s plenty of poetry in the movies, if you count Shakespeare’s plays, and plays like Marat/Sade, and musicals.

I can’t think of any original non-musical screenplays that contain significant doses of poetry, though.

One problem is that poetry (“Slams” notwithstanding), aside from song lyrics, has drifted away from popular entertainment (or vice versa). If you put a lot of poetry into a film, then, you’re gonna seem pretentious. Throwing “high” art willy-nilly into the movies gets you in trouble. Look at the negative reaction a lot of people had to the dancing in West Side Story Even on this Board.

There was this one movie a while back called Dead Poets Society

The primary issue would be that film is a visual medium, and poetry isn’t really visual. Although dialogue, narration and music adds to film, they are considered “weaker” elements than visuals. Using a poem would weaken a film, much the same way that extensive voice overs or that sort of thing weakens films.

There are some movies that do use poetry. The sublime I am Cuba comes to mind. Although that isn’t exactly a low brow film. I’ve also seen a few experimental films (and a lot of really bad student films) that rely on poetry. It generally doesn’t work out very well.

I think that music often serves the purpose that you propose poetry should serve. It is often used as a cheap-and-dirty mood creator. It has the advantage of being able to work with the visual, instead of against them as poetry would. Sometimes this music has lyrics that move the narrative forward (think Lucia and Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song) but more often music servers as an enhancement of what is happening on screen, and deals more with mood than narrative, thus keeping with film’s visual nature.

By less literate, I think they meant literally not literate, as in not pocessing a written language, not simply low-brow. Rhyme and rhythm help people remember things that they would never be able to memorize as blocks of prose. But when you have a written language, that becomes less neccesary. Besides, I don’t think we have any pressing need to be able to recite exact parts of Independence Day and My Best Friend’s Wedding, anyway.

IMHO, there is no poetry in movies because theater management has a difficult time enough cleaning up spilled soft drinks and popcorn trash without adding upchuck to the mess on the floor.

I can’t STAND poetry!

Off to Cafe Society.

So I Married an Axe Murder has poetry.

** Poetic Justice** was filled with poetry, and look how well that turned out…

I don’t think poetry would have improved The Scorpion King. It was good cheesy fun, but narration would have been a nightmare considering the amount of explanation it would have to do.

10 Things I Hate About You is the most recent movie I’ve seen that was improved with poetry. Four Weddings and a Funeral wouldn’t have been the same without a reading of Auden’s “Funeral Blues.” (Assuming I’ve gotten poet and title correct.)

Let’s not forget IL POSTINO.

Damn, Homebrew beat me to it.

“Wo-man. Whooooooooah-man.”


With Honors has plenty of excerpts from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, and a fair bit of original dialogue in blank verse, if I recall correctly.

IMHO, the OP uses the word “poetry” where s/he may have intended “doggerel.”

Kubrick’s films were full of poetry.

Bah, waste of air even discussing it.

Why aren’t there any ticks on dogs?

Why isn’t there more poetry in movies? Because they’re moveies. It’s about action, not words. By action, I don’t mean just shootouts and explosions, but rather that you want to show people doing things, not talking about doing things. The words are the least important part of a movie, which is why Hollywood values a good grip more than a good writer. IMO, asking why there isn’t more poetry in movies is like asking why there isn’t more music in sculpture.

The new Britney Spears movie has poetry in it! She tenderly reads a poem that she wrote to her big hunky sweetie that just happens to use the same exact words as one of her big hit singles.

It’s SOOOOO romantic and shit.